The Seed is Planted(1995)
It was the spring of 1995 and many grassroots efforts toward community building, food quality and security were taking place in West Marin. In addition, there was concern about the future of agriculture in Marin due to a confluence of factors: soaring land costs, decreasing agricultural production, and the lack of diversity in agricultural products due in part to the historical focus on dairy farming.
That spring small group local food enthusiasts emerged that became known as the West Marin Growers Group. It included local produce growers such as Janet Brown and activists such as Ellen Straus who began to meet to discuss ways to create a local label, diversify and support local food production and build and enhance a sense of community identity. Despite the obstacles of organizing a new market and opposition from certain local businesses, the push was on to establish an all-organic, strictly local Farmers Market.
With the generous offer from Chris Giacomini to host the market at Toby’s Feed Barn, the Pt. Reyes Farmers Market was born in July 1995. Diane Matthew of Mt. Barnaby Farm, Peter Martinelli of Fresh Run Farm, and Peter Worsley, were among the first who sold their produce directly to neighbors and friends each Saturday. They were an enthusiastic and passionate collection of small producers who strove to offer high-quality organically grown produce and promote the value of locally grown foods.
Under the guidance of the West Marin Growers Group the market ran for several summer seasons. Besides the market the local producers were embraced by a few pioneering restaurateurs such as Margaret Grade of Manka’s and Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery who were delighted to purchase local produce and to promote the locally grown concept and incorporate these products in their cuisine.
However, the demands of operating a farmers market in a small coastal village proved to be too much for a handful of growers. Local food was not in high demand because consumer education on the health and environmental benefits of locally grown food was not yet widespread. Market sales fluctuated greatly with peak being July and August tourist season, while September and October weekends often brought only a fraction of the customers. As a result, the market dwindled down to a point where there was no market in the summer of 2000.
Transplanting and Re-Seeding (2001-2003)
From the original West Marin Growers Group, the non-profit organization, Marin Organic, was established and launched in 2000. One of its primary missions was the revival of the Pt. ReyesFarmers Market.
From the beginning, Marin Organic’s goal was to promote locally grown organic food produced in a sustainable and socially just way and create a unique label to differentiate and promote the products. The local farmers market was a key piece in this vision. In the summer of 2001 the market was reestablished with the help of Marin Organic and has flourished ever since.
The sustained support from Marin Organic, Toby’s Feed Barn, Supervisor Kinsey, and local businesses and nonprofits has helped establish the market as a mainstay of summer weekends in Pt. Reyes Station.
But the event that put West Marin agriculture and the Point Reyes Farmers Market on the map was the visit in 2005 by the Prince of Wales who is an environmental activist and an enthusiastic promoter of organic food and growing methods. In fact, it was through local connections that the visit was made possible!
In late 2004, Prince Charles was the keynote speaker at inaugural international Slow Food conference on sustainable agriculture, Tierra Madre, which was held in Italy and attended by Alice Waters, who also addressed the conference. She had also been promoting West Marin agriculture through her restaurant and events held at the Farmers Market and the Point Reyes Bookstore. When Prince Charles expressed an interest in learning about sustainable practices in the U.S., Ms. Waters suggested visiting the farms in West Marin and the Point Reyes Farmers Market. So for one weekend in November 2005, Prince Charles and Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall, enjoyed the hospitality of Manka’s Inverness Lodge, toured organic farms and paid a visit to the Pt. Reyes Farmers Market. Anticipating the royal visit, the market stayed open and extra weekend that season that saw attendance soar with several thousand locals and visitors attending and observing his visit. Ever since the market officially ends its season on that first Saturday of November.
Over the years local businesses became key partners and supporters of the Market. Point Reyes Books became an avid supporter early on by offering chef-book author events in collaboration with the Market featuring such notable and innovative chefs such as Alice Waters (Chez Panisse), Joyce Goldstein (Square One) and Molly Katzen among others.
The success of these events led to the creation of the Chef Booth, originally a small tasting booth which soon grew into a full-fledged cooking demonstration and educational effort utilizing produce and products featured at the market. An early chef booth demo featured Claire Ptak, a local and now acclaimed author and restaurateur in London. Soon, other prominent chefs were featured including Tyler Florence (Iron Chef), Joyce Goldstein (Square One), Margaret Grade (Manka’s Inverness Lodge; Sir and Star), Christian Caiazzo (Osteria Stellina) Ed Vigil (Olema Inn/Inverness Market) and many others.
Adding to the home-grown atmosphere, the market began to feature local musicians and musical groups who performed weekly during the market season providing a venue for socializing and sampling the market’s offerings.
Recognizing the need to stimulate a love of reading and educate children early on about the value of healthy food and sustainable production, the Kid’s Zone at the Market was launched by Alex Porrata and Maria Niggle through the First Five Program and later and supported by the Marin Literacy Council as a fun and engaging way to stimulate and nurture children’s interest in reading and nature.
A Bountiful Harvest(2011-2016)
Today, the Point Reyes Farmers Market is flourishing and thriving under the guidance and volunteer efforts of the Steering Committee, growers and local food producers. The Market is held during 20 weeks of the growing season and offers greens, herbs, zucchini flowers, tomatoes, berries, colorful carrots, beets and beans, eggs, olive oil, lamb, home-made tortillas, wool, jams, artisan cheeses and breads, dazzling fresh-picked bouquets, local organic prepared foods and more. The convivial music and picnic area offers a place to socialize and create community.
Despite the doubts and obstacles the early proponents faced, the market is indisputably, a success. But this wouldn’t have been possible without the unique collaboration and joint efforts of Marin Organic, government at the county level, education through the UC Cooperative Extension, local businesses such as Toby’s Feed Barn, Point Reyes Books, restaurateurs and of course, the producers.